Theatre Review: Margaret Saves Scotland by Val McDermid, Oran Mor, Glasgow…

A MORE than crowded house at Oran Mor for this new play by Val McDermid – and for those unaware of publicity details, maybe an expectation of the violent crime stories that McDermid is known for.

Is the eponymous Margaret going to save Scotland by engineering the demise of political figures in Westminster? Not a bit of it. This Margaret – inspired by a now deceased friend of McDermid’s – is a wee girl who lives in Yorkshire but who, after a family holiday, returns to Keighley with Scotland evermore written on her heart.

What follows is a tale where truth eclipses fiction, although McDermid – with director Marilyn Imrie onside – has tweaked aspects of what actually happened for comic, poignant and certainly sentimental effect. The nine-year old Margaret decides that Scotland should regain its freedom, makes it her mission to rouse that nation to rise up … and runs away from home to kickstart a campaign for independence. The year, by the way, is 1958.

Politics aside, you’ll find it hard not to be inveigled into the little girl’s enthusiasms. Tori Burgess’s Margaret – very much a 50s schoolgirl in neat uniform, short socks and sensible shoes – is a mettlesome wee besom who, even if her historical sources get criss-crossed with the romance and derring-do of films like Casablanca, is determined to keep faith with her dreams.

Upbeat, thoroughly engaging performances, too, from Clare Waugh and Simon Donaldson as her well-meaning parents, switching bits of costume and accents to play the other characters along Margaret’s way. They play a variety of musical instruments too, for this is a one-act where songs – Over the Sea to Skye, among them – are a vibrant part of McDermid’s tender, whimsical tribute to her friend Margaret.

Presented in association with Aberdeen Performing Arts and Traverse Theatre.

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Review: Message From The Skies, various sites, Edinburgh…

It’s a show with a subtitle, this powerful piece of storytelling combined with installation art, playing around 12 locations in Edinburgh city centre through the dark winter month between New Year’s Day and Burns Night. Its other name is New Year’s Resurrection; and its text, by the great crime novelist Val McDermid, is not only a tribute to a city famous for its dramatic clashes between elegant enlightenment and dark criminality, but a plea to resurrect the reputation of generations of women writers who have too often been forgotten, in the litany of Edinburgh’s famous male literary stars. Message From The Skies, various sites, Edinburgh *** So we begin at Parliament Square with a brief introduction to the dark-and-light horror story of Burke and Hare, before visiting the National Library for a list of male writers, suddenly interrupted. Then, at Lady Stair’s Close, we finally meet the central character of the evening’s entertainment, the 19th century novelist Susan Edmonstone Ferrier who – with some help later on from the inimitable Muriel Spark – leads us through a journey from the Mound (where we cheerfully watch the Scott Monument crumble), to Calton Road, York Place and the New Town, where Ferrier lived out the last years of her life.

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To celebrate the start of Book Week, we ask Scotland’s big names for their best reads…

FIRST Minister Nicola Sturgeon last week revealed her favourite book of the year – The Heart’s Invisible Furies, by Irish author John Boyne.

She said the novel, about an adopted boy growing up in 1940s Ireland, was more than just the story of one man.

“The novel begins in 1945, and ends just as Ireland votes to legalise gay marriage – a country making peace with its past,” she said.

“It is a beautifully written epic and will make you laugh and cry in equal measure.”
Over the past decade we’ve seen Kindle devices compete with the old-fashioned physical book.
But it’s not the only way our reading habits have changed, according to Waterstones.
Angie Crawford is the Scottish buying manager for the giant book retailer.

“Over the last decade, we’ve seen different trends – ten years ago misery memoirs were all the rage, we loved a good celeb biography and football memoir,” she explained.

“Now these may take more of a back seat as we curl up with crime fiction.

“In the Scottish market we have seen the growth of detective fiction with big names such as Ian Rankin, Peter May and Val McDermid.”

And although electronic devices were widely predicted to be the death knell for paper books, Angie reckons physical copies will continue to sell.

“Electronic reading has its place and can be a convenience for readers packing for their summer holidays but our infatuation with e-reading has plateaued,” said Angie. “Nothing can beat getting your physical book signed by the author. Our experience is that readers use a combination of both but the physical book wins!”

Tomorrow is the start of Book Week Scotland and to mark it we asked writers and celebrities to tell us their favourite novels.

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